Anthology horror films aren’t a new concept, but with projects like The ABCs of Death, XX, and "Into the Dark" coming in the last decade or so, they are certainly on the rise. With a multitude of stories, plot lines, and creative minds behind them, they are the very definition of “something for everyone.” With Legion M’s The Field Guide to Evil, eight different folk tales spanning across the globe get the short film treatment, from aliens to monsters, from pagans to pregnancy, and from supernatural to superstitious.
The wide range of stories brought together for the project is something to behold. Representing Austria are the team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy) with “The Sinful Women of Höllfall,” a tale of forbidden love threatened by the mythical Trud. Turkey’s Can Evrenol (Baskin) directs “Haunted by Al Karisi, The Childbirth Djinn,” which plays out like Rosemary’s Baby with plenty of foreign flare. Agnieszka Smoczynska (Fugue) helms “The Kindler and the Virgin,” in which a man is met with the promise of power beyond his wildest dreams… for a price. Calvin Reeder’s (V/H/S) “Beware the Melonheads” is E.T. but make it bloodier. Greece’s Yannis Vesleves (Norway, Cosmic Candy) brings us “Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan?,” an homage to the old religion and one man’s fall from grace. Ashim Ahluwalia (Miss Lovely) directs “Palace of Horrors,” an oddity of vanity. Katrin Gebbe (Nothing Bad Can Happen) brings us “A Nocturnal Breath,” a tale of possession and darkness. Closing out the anthology is Peter Strickland’s (In Fabric) “The Cobblers’ Lot,” a modern silent film about commodity and, well, cobblery.
By that same token, the wide range of stories on display here make for a variety of quality. Personally, the freaky and bloody “Beware the Melonheads,” the rebellious “Sinful Women of Höllfall,” and the trippy “Al Karisi” are my favorites. “Melonheads” is wholly entertaining, with some great alien effects and some solid writing. “Höllfall” is paced in a way that when the monster shows its face, the impact is that much stronger. Besides that, it’s about two queer women bucking tradition, so naturally that earns points from me. “Al Karisi” has a dialogue-free first half, an interesting choice that heightens the tension of what can be seen, but not heard. Perhaps that fact in itself, the fact that the action is seen and not heard, is a metaphor for the objectification and dehumanization of women.
The ending of “The Kindler and the Virgin” makes for an interesting twist, but the clip as a whole was only so strong. The story of Panagas the Pagan is a hedonistic good time, but the story is a little on the weak side. “Palace of Horrors” was the least compelling and interesting to me, which is a shame, given some of the choices made for the cinematography. “A Nocturnal Breath” was a fun ride, but ended up as the middle of the road of the segments on display here.
It is difficult to really sum up everything found in The Field Guide to Evil, as there are great things to be found. It is an entertaining ride, and while not every scene is up to snuff with the others, it’s worth seeing what the full 118 minutes has to offer. If you’re familiar with any of the directors showcased here, it’s worth seeing what they can do in short film formats. At the very least, it’s a nice introduction to those looking for international horror stories to offset the onslaught of the jumpscare-heavy mainstream American horror.